On Chibok girls: There are many unanswered questions
By Okey Ndiribe
Asara Asara, Ake IX, the paramount ruler of Akipelai Community in Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, is also a delegate at the on-going National Conference on the platform of the Federal Government He speaks on the battle for resource control among other issues in this interview.
Can you comment on the Conference’s controversial resolution that fuel subsidy should be removed in line with the recommendations of the Committee on Public Finance?
The problem we have in Nigeria is that we always like to leave the substance and chase shadows. The removal of fuel subsidy shouldn’t have been anything contentious. This is because, the fuel subsidy we are talking was meant to cushion the effect of increase in price of fuel on the masses.
But the question we need to ask ourselves is whether the subsidy is actually achieving the purpose for which it was meant? Who is benefitting from the fuel subsidy? My answer is that it is rich men. How many of the poor people can afford to buy a car? I have never believed in fuel subsidy. I want it to be removed completely. If we had allowed the Federal Government to go ahead with the price of N140 per liter it announced in 2012, we would have gotten used to it by now.
But the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, led the agitation against the removal of fuel subsidy. We all know that each time there is an increase in the price of fuel as was the case in 2012, what usually follows is a hike in transport fares and prices of goods generally.
But when eventually the price of fuel is brought down, nobody goes to negotiate with the transporters, traders and farmers to reduce their prices in line with the reduced fuel price. Once the bread seller has increased his price of bread to say N300 per loaf, in response to the initial hike in fuel price announced by government, he (the bread seller) will never reduce his price irrespective of the reduction in price later on.
After the government and NLC eventually agreed to reduce the price to N97 per liter in 2012, were the prices of goods and transport fares, which shot up due to the hike in price to N140 per liter, reduced? That did not happen. I blame our labour leaders for what is happening.
Do you know what happens when they go for negotiation with government? They only come back to announce that strike has been called off. But the suffering of the masses continues.
What is your position on the issue of resource control and whether control of natural resources should be on the exclusive, concurrent or residual list of the Constitution?
The issue of resource control has been controversial even before we gained independence in 1960. I was in the Committee on Devolution of Powers and that was one of the most contentious issues. We had to reach a compromise in the sense that we discussed and agreed on certain issues which I will not be able to disclose now because the report is before the plenary session.
I would only like to speak after we have debated the recommendations of our Committee at the plenary session. You don’t discuss something that is controversial or explosive before it is debated at the plenary.
Be that as it may, I believe that the reason why the control of resources is such an explosive issue is because most delegates at the conference don’t know what the people of the oil producing areas are passing through in the hands of the multinational oil companies. Most of them would be shocked when they get to the Niger Delta.
Oil has brought poverty instead of prosperity to the people of the Niger Delta. Oil has brought devastation; it has destroyed the ecosystem. The aquatic life is gone and our environment has been degraded. Everyday we see oil flowing on top of our water. We cannot use water for anything. Our mangrove forest is gone. Everything has been destroyed. I keep asking people why is this hydro-carbon found in the swamp of this country?
In other countries, it is found in the desert regions. My answer is that God gave us this natural resource to use for the development and upgrading of our environment. But, unfortunately, the oil has turned out to be a curse for the Niger Delta people. And yet some people don’t want to see it in that light.
When you discuss with such people, they would say they used their money to prospect for oil in the Niger Delta. I have asked them which money they are talking about? At the time the British were prospecting for oil in the Niger Delta, there was no independent Nigeria. So, at what point did they financially sponsor the prospecting for oil in the Niger Delta ?
Oil was first discovered at Oloibiri, in present day Bayelsa State in 1956. This kind of argument is for lazy people. These are the same people who claim that they are the sole owners of this country. They can’t be sole owners of Nigeria because this country belongs to all of us.
If this oil is to be found today in Lake Chad, you would see that the same people opposing the derivation principle in sharing national revenue would be the same that would change the laws. They would say they want 100 percent control of their resources. What type of country is this?
A country in which our fellow Nigerians would be glad over our misfortune, but when they have their own misfortunes, they make it look like a national problem.
Take for instance during the period of militancy in the Niger Delta, did these people make it a national issue?
It became a national issue when it became clear that government was about to shut down due to decline in oil revenue. They didn’t make it a national issue based on a patriotic concern. That was when the late President Umar Yar’Adua decided to call for amnesty. Even before he granted the amnesty, he sent the then Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan to talk to his people.
The Vice-President went to the creeks and camps of the militants to meet them. He met them, appealed to them and discussed with them and they agreed to lay down their arms. Did any northerner follow him to the creeks and camps in the Niger Delta at that time?
But, today, Boko Haram has become a national issue. So, anything that happens to them is a national issue, but anything that happens to another section of this country is regarded as a local issue. Infact, at the peak of the militancy, some of these people advocated that the entire people of Niger Delta should be killed. They said so and it was published by the newspapers. But God is wonderful.
Yes, we want to control our resources, so that we would be able to manage them. This is because the Federal Government is not managing our oil properly. We want to control our resources without undermining the interest of other sections of this country. We also want other sections of this country to benefit from our resources.
This is the reason some of us who are moderates agreed to reach a compromise.
These people thought they are sensible. They don’t know that people from other sections of the country are also intelligent. When we were meeting at the level of the Committee on Devolution of Powers, the membership of the Committee kept increasing everyday.
At the end of the day, some of us from the Niger-Delta suddenly discovered that the Committee had been taken over by the North. It was the leadership of the Conference that assigned members to different committees. This was possible because the Committee Chairmen did not have the power to object to the inclusion of new members in any of the committees.
They even brought a motion to cancel the 13 percent derivation formula which is contained in the present Constitution. They also came with another motion to introduce the onshore/offshore dichotomy for the sharing of revenue derived from oil.
When we eventually discovered that we had been outnumbered, we decided to exercise patience until we get to the plenary.
We are saying that in the 1963 Constitution, the principle of derivation was endorsed. This provided that the regions should keep 50 percent of revenue realized from whatever resource they have and pay 50 percent to the Federal Government.
It also provided that 30 percent of that 50 percent should be shared among the federating units while the Federal Government keeps the remaining 20 percent. During the civil war, the Federal Government said it had no money to prosecute the war. That was why the Constitution was revised through a decree by the military regime of Gen. Yakubu Gowon.
The war has been over since 44 years ago but they refused to revert back to the former Constitution and its revenue sharing formula. Instead, they only approved one percent for derivation at a stage. They later increased it from one percent to three percent. They later increased it to 13 percent. So, for how long are we going to remain with 13 percent?
For us to make progress, we are saying let us give a time-line. We have also recommended that other resources have to be developed. We even recommended that the Federal Government has to set aside 4.5 percent of national revenue for the development of mineral resources in the country.
We want to give a time-line within which other mineral resources could be developed. Those are some of our recommendations but I don’t know what the plenary session is going to adopt as a resolution. It must be mentioned that our people are still insisting that we need to control and manage our resources.
What can you say about the insecurity in the North-east?
Security is everybody’s business. You must secure your environment. You don’t just sit down and say government should come and secure you. How many policemen do we have in this country to effectively secure 160 million people?
Security is not only the Federal Government’s business.
The terrorists who have been wreaking havoc have not been killing the government but human beings. It is not right when you see a car parked near your house and you don’t ask questions about it. You want government to come and look at the vehicle that was parked at your door? It is not possible.
You must also pass information to security agencies to be able to know that something is happening within your environment. Some people blame government for everything.
You know why it is so? This is happening because the current President is a man they, said wasn’t qualified to occupy the office. They said because he doesn’t come from a certain part of the country, therefore he is not a Nigerian. That is the problem.
From day one, they said they would make this country ungovernable for him. So, what is happening today is a fall-out from that statement they made. They created the problem and they are now talking about a Nigerian problem. It is not a Nigerian problem. They said they would not allow this government to survive.
I have been asking people whether they are sure that those Chibok girls were actually abducted? Where could the terrorists have taken over 200 girls to? What did the terrorists use in conveying them? They have been talking only about the Federal Government. You can now see that their plan is to give a dog a bad name in order to kill it. That is just their plan.
Otherwise, there is an elected governor in Borno State. And that governor was the man who said there was enough security in Chibok and that the West African Examination Council, WAEC, should go ahead and conduct examination in that school. Even when the Ministry of Education wrote to the governor and told him that the school was not conducive enough and the centre should be transferred.
The governor insisted that they should go on to conduct the examination there. Is anybody accusing the governor of Borno State of any wrongdoing now? Is anybody abusing him now? Is anybody demonstrating in Borno State?
All the demonstrations have been taking place here; their demand is that President Jonathan should bring back the girls. Why is nobody asking Governor Shettima questions? What was Shettima elected for? Is part of his responsibility not to protect lives and property in that state? What effort has he made towards locating those girls? You can see clearly that it is all part of a script.
But the All Progressives Congress, APC, has argued that the President is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and the Chief Security Officer of Nigeria……
(Cuts in) So what is the responsibility of the governors? What do they use their security vote to do? Most governors use almost 50 percent of their state’s monthly allocation as security vote? Are you saying they only line their pockets with all that money?
When you look at the activities of the APC, you will realize that they are out to destroy this country. They are desperate to take power by any means. But they will not succeed because Nigeria of today is not Nigeria of yesterday. The people are more enlightened. The people even know more than what the politicians know. Everything that is happening is a script written by APC. They thought by engaging in what they have been doing, Nigerians would vote out out the present administration. But President Jonathan would be re-elected in 2015.
What makes you so sure that President Jonathan would be re-elected?
President Jonathan has performed well. Do you know why the President is having problems? It is because the man is too honest, sincere and humble. Nigerians don’t believe in somebody who is honest, sincere and humble. They have never seen an honest government in the past.
This is the first time a doctorate degree holder has been elected as President of this country, but they keep saying the man doesn’t know what he is doing. Has there been any government in this country that has performed as well as the present administration? Look at what he has achieved despite the distractions and the security challenges his government has faced.
Can you mention some of his achievements?
Let us look at the educational sector. This is the only government in the history of this country to establish 10 universities at the same time. This government’s policy is that in every state of the federation, there must be a federal university. Look at the Almajiri school he established in the North.
The system of child exploitation has existed for a long time in the North and they were not able to do anything about it. How many schools were they able to build for the Almajiri children ? Go to the federal universities. Have they ever been given funds for infrastructural development in the past?
Look at the power sector. Has any government in recent history of this country been able to provide us with uninterrupted power supply for even one hour? In the past I relied on my generators. In this Abuja, sometimes, I would use generator for a whole month. In Bayelsa State, there was never public power supply and so we relied on power generated by gas turbines.
Today, the public power company has been unbundled. Electricity is not something you can deliver overnight. It involves a lot of technicalities. Many of the power projects have been completed. Very soon we would have uninterrupted power supply in Abuja.
Since President Jonathan was sworn in as President, has there been any scarcity of petroleum products in this country? No.
Our railway that was abandoned is today functional under this administration. Look at our roads. Were they like this before? They have been given a facelift.
Last week, my driver spent about seven hours on the road from Yenagoa to Abuja. If there were no road blocks on the way, he may have reached Abuja earlier. In the past, that journey used to last for about 11 or 12 hours.
A lot has also been achieved in the agricultural sector. It has never been this good like this in the past. In the past, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture was only used for fertilizer importation. But today, a farmer only needs to send SMS to the Ministry and he would get fertilizer. The fertilizer is now going to the farmers directly. There is no third party anymore.
Let us talk about aviation. Can you remember what was the state of our airports before this administration came on board? Today, remodeling has changed the face of our airports. Our airports have now met international standards.